Corrupts Absolutely?
Edited by Lincoln Crisler

Damnation Books
Trade Paper
217 pages, $20.25
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

There is an adage that power corrupts. Does that then mean, by extrapolation, that super powers can irrevocably taint the soul? The stories contained in Corrupts Absolutely? (note the implicit query in the title’s question mark) examine the ethical ambiguities and inherent moral issues of those endowed with extraordinary abilities. Editor Lincoln Crisler has gathered 21 stories in this fine collection; tales which delve into the minds of beings who possess superhuman attributes. For some, the anomalies are an affliction, while others lose what remains of their fragile human side. It is that loss of humanity and humility that creates the utmost horror.

“Hollywood Villainy” by Weston Ochse best exemplifies that horror. The author fashions an individual who is, indeed, absolutely corrupted by his powers. Mired forever in the body of his boyhood, the concocted aged entity revels in sadistic acts. Taking a page from Stephen King’s Carrie and other works concerning vengeance by abused misfits, Ochse superbly executes the deranged venom of his protagonist. There is little room for sympathy for the main character or for his victims; the yarn is set in Los Angeles, and everyone who dwells there is guilty of something. The seedy city seethes with corruption. Even its edifices are contaminated: “Everything is in a state of decay. The floor looks as if it’s hosted a hundred orgies. The furniture is tattered and filthy. The tables are scarred and scored with cigarette burns. The walls are tan from too many cigarettes. The popcorn of the ceiling seems ready to drip like snot from the nose of a flu victim.”

Ochse’s narrative depicts a youthful caped crusader who, like Darth Vader, ultimately embraces the dark side of the force. For others with powers, however, the choice is less black and white. And comes with collateral baggage. Several of the characters who inhabit the pages of the anthology are in therapy; hoping to find coping mechanisms to help deal with their abnormalities. In “Mental Man” by William Todd Rose, for example, the first person narrator verbalizes his internal torment: “Pain, guilt, remorse, agony, despair, terror: a tsunami of emotion and sensation crashed over me as the scene exploded in a brilliant burst of light, like a flashbulb going off in a darkened room.”

Dealing with one’s powers also entails knowing the mechanics of them. The main character in Jeremy Hepler’s “The Real Church” must work out some kinks in his raising-of-the-dead technique. The story features a wonderfully gripping and amusing opening sentence: “It started when I resurrected Mister Fulton’s Chihuahua, Brutus.” Hepler’s protagonist refines his skills, and manages to happily prosper from them.

The end is not nearly so satisfying for the eponymous characters in Andrew Bourelle’s “Max and Rose.” The two lovers are torn apart by one’s abuse of power. Max can will others to do his bidding; cavalierly flaunting his psychic prowess. He demands people pay heed, to stroke his vanity. His egocentricity and pettiness take their toll on Rose, and the severing of their relationship is both shocking and sad.

Lincoln Crisler’s compilation is commendable for showing a range of variations on its theme. The contributors address the motif from different aspects and genres. Aficionados of horror will find several tales to whet their genre appetite. There is deep darkness of the soul when power corrupts – absolutely.

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